Spelling You See FAQs

Whether you're looking for more information to make a purchase or have a question about your new spelling books, check here for answers to the most common questions.

Before You Buy


  1. What is the difference between Spelling You See and other programs?

  2. Spelling You See lessons are short and stress-free. There are no word lists to memorize and no weekly tests. After learning to identify basic letter patterns and their sounds, students develop a visual memory for words by studying them in a meaningful context. Visit our Philosophy and Levels pages for more information about our approach.

  3. Does Spelling You See teach the phonics rules?

  4. Phonics is important for beginning spellers. The first two levels of Spelling You See reinforce the basic phonics that children have been learning in reading instruction. However, research has shown that focusing on phonics rules after the Phonetic Stage of spelling ultimately does not help children learn to spell.

    Children need to develop a strong visual memory for how common words are spelled. This occurs in the Skill Development stage, which typically lasts for several years. By the time students arrive at the Word Extension and Derivational Constancy levels, they already will have a strong sense of how English spelling works and will be ready to focus on more advanced word study, including English spelling patterns that some might describe as “rules.” Learn more about the Five Developmental Stages of Spelling.

  5. How is the approach to learning used in Spelling You See related to that of Math-U-See?

  6. Both Spelling You See and Math-U-See have been developed based on proven successful teaching practices.

  7. Did Steve write Spelling You See?

  8. No. The author is Dr. Karen Holinga, a former elementary school teacher, homeschooling parent, and college professor with over 30 years of experience working with children. A qualified reading specialist, Dr. Holinga has operated a busy clinic in Ohio since 2000, testing these teaching methods and helping children become confident, successful spellers.

  9. Will Spelling You See have videos, like Math-U-See?

  10. When you purchase an Instructor’s Handbook at any level, you will receive access to a series of online videos that feature Dr. Karen Holinga. These videos include explanations of different activities in the program as well as detailed information about each level. Spelling You See is not designed to include lesson-by-lesson videos. Once you have an understanding of the overall goals and techniques of the program, you can apply those throughout the course.

  11. What grade levels does Spelling You See cover?

  12. The current program starts with beginning readers and continues through the Word Extension stage of spelling.

  13. If you are not based on grade level, how does reading level relate?

  14. Because Spelling You See is a spelling curriculum and not a reading program, we have deliberately selected passages that are below the target student’s reading level. We want the student to focus on establishing visual memory of correct spelling and not be distracted with a challenging passage.

  15. I have an older student (middle/high school) who really needs help with spelling. Will this program work for him?

  16. Yes! Here are some tips to help you use Spelling You See with an older student.

    1. Use the Readiness Guidelines rather than age or grade to determine placement.

    >2. Explain to your student that he should expect the reading level to be easy so that the focus is on spelling, not reading.

    3. If the placement guidelines suggest Wild Tales, but that level appears to be too young for your student, consider beginning with Americana. Be particularly careful to read each passage aloud before having the student read it back to you.

    4. Although the passages are purposely easy to read, the content of Americana through Modern Milestones is designed to be interesting for all ages.

    5. The progression of skills between and throughout the levels is gradual, so be flexible in choosing a student's starting point.

    6. If your student finds Modern Milestones difficult, she is probably not ready for the Word Extension stage. Try starting at American Spirit or Ancient Achievements instead.

    7. An older student who is brushing up on spelling skills may be able to shorten a lesson by omitting a copywork or dictation page. The parent should monitor progress closely to make sure this is appropriate.

  17. Have students shown spelling progress using this program?

  18. Yes, Dr. Holinga has used these methods successfully with students at her reading clinic since 2000. Read more about Dr. Holinga.

  19. What kinds of activities are included in Spelling You See?

  20. Young students using Listen and Write and Jack and Jill practice basic phonetic spelling by writing a few dictated words each day. The instructor gives as much assistance as is needed to help the student spell each word correctly. Students develop phonemic awareness, the ability to identify individual sounds within words and match those sounds with letters. In the second level (Jack and Jill), students are gradually introduced to the key activities that are used for the next several levels of the program. They include marking a given set of letter patterns with colored pencils (“chunking”) and copying a short passage, spending no more than 10 minutes a day on the copying. After several days of working with the same passage, the student writes the passage from dictation while still receiving the needed help to spell words correctly.

    All of the activities are designed to encourage close attention to words in the context of meaningful writing and to develop a visual memory for common English words. These activities are not randomly selected to fill time and pages; each is important in helping the brain learn spelling patterns. Chunking each passage provides hands-on experience with the many irregular letter patterns in English. Copywork and dictation require the brain to pay attention to details in the print within a meaningful context. Together, these activities move words into the long-term memory and produce students who are competent spellers.

    Ancient Achievements and Modern Milestones continue to use the proven techniques that have made Spelling You See successful. They also include additional activities designed to help students move comfortably into the Word Extension stage of spelling.

  21. How do I decide where to start my student?

  22. Placement is based on skill level, not grade level. It is important to note that a student's reading ability is often ahead of his spelling ability. Beginning readers should start with Listen and Write or Jack and Jill. Students should begin at a level that is at least one reading level below their current reading level, as spelling skills and reading skills rarely develop at the same pace. Check the readiness guidelines on our Getting Started page for help placing your student properly.

  23. My student reads well but has difficulty with spelling. Does she need to start with Listen and Write?

  24. No, a student may begin at the level indicated by the readiness guidelines on the Getting Started page. The basic activities in Spelling You See are repeated at each level. It’s important to place your student at a level that is a minimum of one year’s reading level below their current level so that the passages are not difficult. We want the student to be able to focus on the letter patterns and committing the words to long-term memory, not to struggle with the reading level.

  25. Can a student work independently in Spelling You See?

  26. The involvement of the instructor/teacher is critical to the student’s success. However, the student will have some activities that can be done independently throughout the lesson.

  27. What materials are needed besides the Instructor's Handbook and the Student Workbook?

  28. You will need a regular pencil and a set of colored pencils or highlighters (yellow, blue, green, purple, pink or red, and orange). We provide a set of erasable colored pencils with each Student Pack (except for Listen and Write, where they are not required).

  29. My child is reading fluently. Why can’t he start at a level higher than suggested in the placement guide?

  30. Most students can easily read words that they cannot spell. It is very important to give them plenty of time to master the spelling of everyday English words. The passages in Spelling You See are purposely designed to be easy for the student to read. If you still think that your student is ready for a level higher than that suggested by the placement guidelines on the Getting Started page, we suggest that you dictate the readiness passage from that level to your student and see if he can spell the words in the passage accurately and easily.

  31. What is the suggested sequence of levels for Spelling You See?

  32. The current sequence is: Listen and Write, Jack and Jill, Wild Tales, Americana, American Spirit, Ancient Achievements, and Modern Milestones. Read more about each level.

  33. Will Spelling You See be available for English speakers in other countries, such as the UK or South Africa?

  34. Spelling You See is based on American English. We are not currently developing editions for other variations of English. If you wish to purchase the American English version, you may order on our website

  35. Can Spelling You See be used by students with special needs? What about students who don’t like to write?

  36. Writing is an essential part of the program. Please contact our Customer Service team to discuss how it can be tailored to your student’s needs.

  37. What about students with dyslexia?

  38. Our curriculum specialists have given us this answer: “This program has successfully been used by many children with language-based learning differences. The use of color and writing help these students commit correct spelling patterns to memory, rather than depending solely on auditory cues. If the student has auditory dyslexia, components of our program will help the student be able to separate sounds. If the student has visual dyslexia, the kinesthetic components will allow the student to match the letter to the sound in order for the brain to make a visual connection.”

  39. Is Spelling You See aligned with the Common Core?

  40. Spelling You See was developed long before there were Common Core standards. Dr. Karen Holinga wrote the program based on the latest research in the field of language. Spelling You See guides students naturally through the developmental stages of spelling, as opposed to giving children tasks to complete based on the sequence and requirements of standards.

  41. Will you have Spelling You See at the fairs this year?

  42. Spelling You See will be featured at all the same fairs as Math-U-See. Visit the Events page on our website for more details.

  43. How is Ancient Achievements different from Americana and American Spirit?

  44. Ancient Achievements is designed as a bridge from the Skill Development stage to the Word Extension stage of spelling. Students will continue to improve their basic spelling skills through chunking, copywork, and dictation. At the same time, a new feature called a Spotlight will introduce them to interesting facts about words, call attention to how different endings are added to words, and show how learning word relationships can help with spelling. A variety of optional activities allow the instructor to tailor these word studies to the needs of each particular student.

  45. How is Modern Milestones different from previous levels?

  46. Modern Milestones is designed for students in the Word Extension stage of spelling. These are good spellers who are ready to learn more about common word patterns and who are ready to work more independently. In this level, the student will continue to use copywork and dictation to practice skills in a meaningful context. At the same time, there are several differences from previous levels of Spelling You See:

    More detailed teaching material is included on the student pages, along with the specific directions for each page.

    The focus of Modern Milestones is learning how prefixes and suffixes are added to base words. Instead of chunking, students will learn a new way to mark words in order to focus on the goals of each lesson.

    A new weekly feature called a Workshop will give students an opportunity to apply the patterns they have learned through various activities.

After You Buy

The Instructor's Handbooks include FAQs that are specific to each level.
  1. My child doesn’t seem to be making progress in Listen and Write or Jack and Jill. Do you have any suggestions?

  2. Some students have trouble hearing sounds clearly, possibly because of auditory processing delays or a history of ear infections. No matter what the reason for slow progress, do not be tempted to skip ahead. Especially at first, it may help to use the same few words several times until the student understands the dictation process. Instead of following the Daily Dictation List, continue to repeat words from previous days. Using more familiar words increases student confidence and improves speed.

  3. Would it be all right to use words other than those in the provided dictation lists Listen and Write and Jack and Jill?

  4. The list of words is limited on purpose. Listen and Write and the first part of Jack and Jill are designed to help the student spell phonetically. This builds a foundation for the subsequent developmental stages of spelling as well as for future success in reading and writing. The goal is not for students to memorize a set number of words but to move from the preliterate stage of spelling into the phonetic stage. If the student needs extra practice with specific sounds or blends, encourage the parent to select words from the General Dictation List in the back of the Handbooks for these levels.

  5. My son is doing fine with the letter boxes in Listen and Write. I say the words and enunciate the sounds, and he writes the letters. When he has to repeat the words back to me, though, he can’t seem to do it.

  6. Two different skills are involved here, and they are usually acquired at different times. When the student writes the letter for the sound he hears, he is encoding. When he reads the words back, he is decoding. It is typical for a child to master one skill before the other. This student seems to be doing well with encoding. With time and practice, he should improve in his ability to decode as well.

  7. My child gets upset when I head for the timer during letter-box dictation. Is it really necessary to time the dictation exercise?

  8. Timing is a motivational tool that some children love. Other children find it frustrating. If this is the case, it is okay to skip the timing. Do keep in mind that students should write words more quickly and confidently over time. Continue to limit the dictation activity to 10 minutes without using a timer.

  9. Are students allowed to ask for help when doing dictation?

  10. Yes. It is a positive step when students articulate their questions. Encourage the student to ask if he is confused by something. For example, if he isn’t sure if cab starts with c or k, have him ask rather than write the word incorrectly. We want to help the child succeed by eliminating opportunities for mistakes. It is better for a student to have the visual image of the correct letter or word rather than an incorrect one.

  11. My daughter wants to do her copywork in cursive. Is this okay?

  12. No. Copywork should be printed in order to develop visual memory. When students read, everything they see is in print, so they should use printing while learning to spell.

  13. Should my student erase during copywork?

  14. It is important to copy words correctly, so the student should erase if necessary.

  15. Should my student erase during passage dictation?

  16. When students are completing dictation, it is important not to erase. Give the student the chance to write the word multiple times, if needed, in order to see which one looks right. Have him draw a line through the incorrect words.

  17. Should I be concerned about careful handwriting?

  18. No. While the handwriting should be legible, the purpose of the writing is for the student to be able to process words quickly into written form and store the correct spelling into long-term memory. As long as you and your student can read what is written, it’s fine. Save penmanship practice for a different time.

  19. Should I keep a list of words that my student misses?

  20. No, this is not necessary. Commonly misspelled words will come up again in future lessons. This program encourages visual memory, not rote memory.

  21. There are no spelling tests. How can I tell if my child is making progress?

  22. Please do not treat the dictation exercises as tests. Instead, look for increased accuracy and the ability to complete a page in 10 minutes or less. You should also see more accurate spelling in other daily work. Each child will progress through the developmental process at his own pace, so be patient and do not put pressure on your student.

    If you are required or would like to keep a portfolio of your student’s work, pages may be removed from the workbooks at regular intervals and kept in a folder. You’ll find spaces in the Student Workbook pages where time and/or number of words spelled correctly can be recorded if you choose to use them.

  23. My daughter does fine in her spelling book and when she’s copying word for word, but if she writes something on her own, her spelling is horrible. Why?

  24. Copying and creating are two very different activities for the brain. Copywork and dictation help the student develop a visual memory, as the brain is focusing on the way the words actually look in print. When she is creating a story, her brain is operating differently. It takes a long time for spelling to become implanted and automatic. Until that happens, you will continue to see spelling errors in free writing. That is why consistent copying of the same passage multiple times is so critical.

  25. In lessons where chunks overlap, which one should my student mark?

  26. Some words will have overlapping chunks or letter patterns. In general, we suggest marking vowel chunks before Bossy r chunks, but Bossy r chunks before consonant chunks. We also suggest marking endings before silent letters.

    However, since the purpose of chunking is to encourage students to notice spelling patterns and to develop a visual memory, do not consider different choices wrong. Instead, discuss the other options that the student may have chosen. You may ask the student which letter pattern she thinks would be most helpful for her to remember and let her mark that one.

  27. We didn’t have time to do spelling every day this week. Is it important to finish every worksheet?

  28. While it is important to work on spelling consistently, it should not be a burden to you or your student. Feel free to start a new lesson each week even if the previous lesson was not completed. The common words and letter patterns will be repeated many times throughout the course.

  29. The description of Modern Milestones mentions "base words." What is a base word, and how is it different from a root word?

  30. A base word is a part of a word that has meaning by itself. The meaning can be changed or expanded by adding letters to the beginning (prefix) or end (suffix) of the word. Sometimes small changes are made to the base word when endings are added. For example, the y is changed to i before the -es is added in order to change study to studies.

    A root word is a part of a word that carries meaning but may not be able to stand alone. An example is the Greek root therm in thermal and thermometer.

  31. When Spelling You See asks students to write on a line, it shows two solid lines instead of two solid lines with a dashed line in between them. If my student is struggling to write on the two solid lines in the Student Workbook, can I print out a blank sheet online with three lines instead?

  32. Using handwriting paper printed with three lines is not recommended because a third line creates "visual noise" for the student and makes it difficult for students with vision attention issues. It is normal for a child's writing in Jack and Jill to not conform to the lines, and it's important to remember that these are not handwriting exercises. "Sloppy copy" is perfectly fine at any level of Spelling You See.